How much do you, the reader and motorcycle enthusiast, know about Sugar Bear? How familiar are you with his frontends, the choppers he’s built since the late ’60s, or his influence through the evolution of the custom motorcycle industry? Chances are, not much, if any.
Somewhere in CA (at least that’s what his shop shirts indicate) are black and white and old color photos of chops and time-frozen snapshots of a riding camaraderie that line Sugar Bear’s walls. But sorry, Sugar Bear; the Gardena, CA-based time capsule not only captures the early beginnings of choppers, it tells the history of an individual who has been there since the birth of choppers, and to whom these pages cannot do total justice.
“If it ain’t long, it’s wrong,” says Sugar Bear, which frankly sums up the style of choppers he builds. Tastes change over time, bike-building trends go in and out of style or come back full circle again like history repeating itself-well, not with Sugar Bear. His intent when the shop opened in 1971 was to build long and low street-rideable chops with a little extra power. Thirty-six years later, his intent has remained unchanged. Sugar Bear’s belief that “All bikes were meant to have scrapes, chips, burnt pipes, dents, style, and smiles-per-miles,” has been the shop’s aim since the beginning, and is still about rideable choppers today.
The year was 1972, a time when most Springers were tubing, and Sugar Bear constructed his out of solid steel. This enabled Sugar Bear to construct a quality Springer to achieve his customers’ desires for a strong and long look. “Our first Springers were made in lengths up to 18 inches over stock,” and throughout the decades Sugar Bear has mathematically tweaked and perfected from short to long to extremely long fork lengths, and made a name for himself with his signature Springers and hard-to-miss rockers. “Most people think I only make long Springers, but I do make different lengths, including short ones,” he said. How comfortable and safe are these Springers? You’d have to sift through decades of repeat customers to understand.
What’s interesting is that Sugar Bear became more known for his Springer frontends than his bikes, even though he has been building both since the early ’70s. “I’ve always built bikes and frontends, but maybe that was little known ’cause I wasn’t in the press or something,” Sugar Bear said. “My frontends spread by word of mouth.” Word of mouth has served him well, as word eventually traveled, but the length of time it took for Sugar Bear to receive the recognition he earned and deserved is inexcusable. In a time when ignorance and racial differences affected Sugar Bear’s career, the mild-mannered, laid back, kind-hearted Bear pushed past it all and doesn’t dwell on it.
Now, you didn’t just think we would show you pictures of these bikes, tell you about them, this and that, and the end, did you? No, a little background was in order seeing as there are not enough pages here for Sugar Bear, the individual responsible for the two bikes before you. The other individual you should have noticed on the cover is Sugar Bear’s son, Turk. Turk (or Little Bear) started at the shop in September 2006, and told us “he has settled in with his dad.” We hope to see the Sugar Bear Choppers legacy carried out.
Although they say ladies first, let’s start with the bike before you named “Gorjus.” It’s pronounced gorgeous, but Sugar Bear put a little spelling twist on it just for fun (and perhaps to drive us editors crazy).
Like flipping on your TV to watch the History Channel, you’re looking at a 1948 Panhead with mostly original parts that was built in 1969 by Junior Batista. A bike builder and painter as well as friend and riding buddy of Sugar Bear’s, Junior originally built this bike, and then unfortunately had to sell it. He turned the bike over to George Houghley, who was also a friend and riding buddy of Sugar Bear’s, “but not really a mechanic or builder.” The bike then found its way into good hands: those of Sugar Bear and Ben Hardy, who started working on it. Chances are you might not be familiar with Ben Hardy. Sugar Bear was around when his friend and mentor, Ben, designed and built the two choppers in the 1969 classic Easy Rider, but was pretty much ignored and discredited with the building of those bikes. Ben was profoundly affected by that, but he persevered with the attitude that he was in the business purely for the love of bikes.
Sugar Bear draws on the same parallel, where all he wants to do is ride what he likes. After 30 years on the road, Sugar Bear said, “I just can’t ride rigids anymore.” And speaking of retiring rigids, Gorjus was retired in 1999 and is living its golden years as a show bike. “I keep it to show people some of my history,” he said. And what a conversation piece it is when most people’s reactions are to just stand there and look at it, usually uttering the words, “It’s gorgeous.” Sugar Bear said, “It represents a good deal of the past and what we were riding back then.”
Although Gorjus has gone through several changes-we’re talking general maintenance, repainting, and rechroming-it’s been the same style with few modifications. The motor started out as a stock Pan, the cases were split, 80-inch UL flywheels went in, and spent gases left via Sugar Bear’s 2-into-1 exhaust. When it came to the frame, because they didn’t rake a bike back then, they cut the front legs and added six inches of stock into the frame. The greater picture here being able to accommodate the 22-over Sugar Bear Springer.
What’s most significant here is Gorjus has always had the same frame, gas and oil tank, fender, primary cover, and why this is of importance is because the parts are not modern-day items. In fact, Sugar Bear is going to be removing the disc brake and putting the old mechanical brake back on to present the bike the way it used to be. And like Gorjus, most of Sugar Bear’s bikes have narrow handlebars-10 o’clock and 2 o’clock position-like your hand position on a steering wheel, or at least the way they teach you in driver’s ed. “It was the most comfortable and desired style of bars running in the area during our time,” Sugar Bear said. Other style elements running back in his time and on Gorjus were side-mounted taillights, Bates-style small headlights (which enabled them to have a panoramic view in the headlight shell), and round stock welded onto a piece of metal with no glass but enough reflection to act as mirror to avoid hassle from the police. This bike is all about the cool little things and originality-keeping it simple, real, and Gorjus.
Readers, as mentioned earlier in this story, the second bike shown here is owned by a lady by the name of Glodean White. Chances are you might not be familiar with her, until we let you in on she’s an R&B; singer who was married to legendary performer Barry White (ooohhhhh yeah). Glodean was the lead singer of the group Love Unlimited, and she as well as her other group members were back-up singers for Barry White-but the most significant thing about this bike Glodean is the first female rider with a complete Sugar Bear bike, not just one of his frontends.
Starting out on a Sportster, Glodean’s been riding about 15 years, and this ’04 Sugar Bear special Softail is her fourth bike. A longtime friend of Sugar Bear, she came to him wanting to be the first lady with the complete Bear package and style of bike he’s known for, and particularly wanted it to fit her and be easy to handle. Three design elements were taken into consideration when it came time to get the bike just right for her: Frame, frontend, and fuel tank.
Sugar Bear got started rebuilding a ’99 Evo 80ci motor, and then secured it between the framerails of an ’04 Diamond Chassis frame, with 40 degrees of rake in the neck and 4 inches of stretch. He then secured his 22-inch-over Springer frontend. Glodean didn’t care for the high-mounted fuel tank that’s typical with Sugar Bear’s style of bikes, so he extended and mounted the tank low to accommodate her wishes. Glodean also specified a black and gold paint job, so Sugar Bear broke out his artistic talent and molded and painted the bike.
Speaking of paint, chances are you might not be familiar with the fact that Sugar Bear paints most of his bikes, and builds the wheels as well, including those on these two bikes. Getting back to paint, Gorjus was molded and painted by him, and as for the symbolization of the fuel tank graphics, we’ll come back to that real soon. As for Glodean’s bike, Sugar Bear handmade the rear fender, and graphics guru Ron painted the Love Unlimited group members on it, featuring Glodean in the middle. It was based off an album cover they had released back in the day. Eloquent musical notes and microphone graphics finish off the theme. Now, when Sugar Bear said that the bike’s build time was enough to get it right for Glodean, he meant it when it came to the seat as well. Several seat changes were made until Seats By Ash made one just for her, complete with the words “Glo’s Chop” stitched in gold.
When Glodean’s bike was finished, Sugar Bear delivered it to her as a surprise. She was not only happy with the bike, but also pleased that she had achieved her goal of being the first woman with a complete Sugar Bear bike. She now has a second one in the making.
Readers, as mentioned a little earlier in the story, we were going to come back to the meaning of the fuel tank graphic on Gorjus. The heart and wing symbol that signifies Sugar Bear was explained: “Back then when you started riding you had to put in your time before you got your wings.” Sugar Bear continued, “I earned my wings, my heart has wings…that’s what it signifies to me.”
Sugar Bear, from the STREET CHOPPER staff, with your heart and wings you have soared above it all. Thank you for your contributions and place in our motorcycle industry. May your legacy continue to flourish.
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